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What Running Teaches Us About Adopting a Plant-based Diet

The three factors that lead to life transformation.

I’m at my tread-mill running class. The instructor reminds us to “use the mirror. Look yourself in the eye, relax your jaw and smile.” This is meant to ease tension and, as a result, help our gaits. I’ve heard this instruction dozens of times and each time, it’s lost on me. What I usually see in the reflection is a grimace, a middle-aged woman struggling to keep up, an imposter in a room full of serious runners. But on this morning, something is different. I see grit and determination, strength and power. This time I do smile, reengage, and think to myself, “I am an athlete.”

You see, I’ve never been much of a runner. Short sprints I could manage, but the idea of a long run, and by long I mean anything over a mile, seemed like a grueling and pointless endeavor. Somehow over the years, though, I’ve completed and, dare-I-say, enjoyed 5Ks, 10Ks and even a half-marathon. How did I get there?

I’m a vegan lifestyle coach and plant-based nutrition educator. I help people transition to and sustain a plant-based diet. I’ve performed research on this topic to better understand what it takes to adopt new ways of being. Here’s the thing. The same three factors that shifted my mindset from “I’m-not-a-runner” to “I’m an athlete”, are instrumental in adopting a plant-based lifestyle, too.

Know Your Why

What is your motivation? Why do you want to do this? If you aspire to be a runner, perhaps it’s about physical or mental health. The desire to be outdoors, exercise in beautiful surroundings. Or maybe you are looking for social connection.

Similarly, if you want to adopt a plant-based diet. Ask yourself why it’s worth the effort. Are you looking to eat a health-promoting diet? Minimize the impact your food choices have on the planet or the suffering of animals?

In both cases, remind yourself that transformation is possible. You have what it takes to reach your fitness or dietary goals. You have all you need to harness the power of your body and plants to live your dreams.

“With a big enough why you can overcome any how” – Neitzsche

Remember your why. Mine it. Generate power from it knowing that great rewards lie on the other side of any discomfort the transition might cause you. In both cases you embrace the process of transformation.

Ride The Initial Discomfort

You set fitness goals, you know why you want to go this route but the beginning isn’t easy. You’re not in shape. Your muscles are sore. It’s an uphill climb building your heart and lung strength. It’s a mind game fighting the ego that whispers “why bother?”

So too do you face challenges adopting a plant-based diet. You might face cravings or your body’s adjustment to consuming new foods. Besides the physical challenges are the emotional ones. Perhaps you are confounded by plant-based nutrition, concerned about navigating social situations, stumped by new cooking methods or generally off–kilter navigating an unfamiliar world as you break habits and create new ones.

In the face of uncertainty, we do ourselves great favors, when we say “screw the fear”, it’s okay to do something that challenges me. I owe it to myself to try, knowing that the initial discomfort does pass. When you push through you feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. It’s an exciting adventure as you begin to experience life and see yourself in new ways.

Find Support

I wouldn’t have gone from aspiring runner to athlete without drawing on the support of those around me. I took classes, talked to the instructors, joined a running club, read on-line blogs and leaned on my husband, a serious athlete, for advice and inspiration. Support increased my sense of belonging, helped me adopt the identity of an athlete.

Support is instrumental in overcoming the initial discomforts that come with adopting a plant-based diet and the identity of someone who eats in a way that aligns their goals with their actions. With support you benefit from others’ insights and positive feedback, motivation and accountability. There are so many places to look for support whether from on-line Facebook groups, coaches, mentors, or healthcare providers. Instagram can be a fabulous resource for inspiration, recipes and beautiful plant-based food photos. You Tube can help you overcome the hows of plant-based cooking. And podcasts are also a wonderful sources of inspiration. When I first adopted the lifestyle, I hit-up my local library for cookbooks. I’ve got many authors to thank for teaching me how to prepare a new-to-me and wonderful cuisine.

I was recently running around beautiful Jamaica Pond. It is part of Boston’s Emerald Necklace designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Competing in Park Run, a free timed 5K run that takes place each Saturday morning around the world, I was tired and winded but happy to be out there. I was reminded of these three factors for lifestyle change and filled with gratitude for the volunteers. With their cheers and encouragement, they supported us runners, reminded us why we were braving the cold on a brisk February morning, and helped us push past our discomfort. I so appreciate them for their commitment to helping others to transform their lives.

Diana Goldman is a plant-based chef and vegan lifestyle coach who received a B.S. from Cornell University in Nutritional Science and an Ed.M. from Harvard University. Sign up for free weekly recipes and wellness tips for living a purposeful, connected and joyful life on her website www.beantownkitchen.com.

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